Champion of Mill Road
More Mill Road organisations and websites owe their existence to Suzy Oakes than one might imagine…
When Suzy and her husband Steve O’Rahilly moved to Mill Road, straight away Suzy became involved with the community of residents and traders.
In Steve’s words ‘She had the idea that Mill Road, the neighbourhood we live in, was so fascinating and diverse and had so many interesting independent shops and so many inquisitive, talented and open-minded residents that this should be celebrated in some way. Suzy attracted the support of a small number of like-minded people and thus in 2007 The Mill Road Winter Fair was born.’
Also with like minded friends, she set up the original mill-road.com website. She became a founder member of Mill Road Bridges and decided, during her final illness, that it was the organisation best suited to continue the website’s work of bringing information about the road to both sides of the Mill Road bridge and to the wider city and beyond.
In her will, Suzy left money to Mill Road in the shape of the Suzy Oakes Trust. The Trust has supported, amongst other Mill Road organisations: Mill Road Cemetery (for restoration of graves and for a support grant to enable a larger grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.) mill-road.com (for an earlier version of this website) Mill Road History Society (for a support grant to enable a larger grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund) Mill Road TV, Mill Road Festive Lights (currently dormant, awaiting re-establishment under the auspices of the Mill Road Traders) and Mill Road Winter Fair.
The trust has also been very helpful to the local charity Lifecraft in various ways. A room is named after Suzy in the charity’s premises at The Bath House in Gwydir Street.
Text: Caro Wilson
When Suzy’s Funeral took place on 9th August 2011, a hearse left Mackenzie Road and drove the full length of Mill Road before setting off to the crematorium. The road was lined with mourners from all sections of the community.
In 2015 a bench (donated by Steve O’ Rahilly) standing on the top of Mill Road bridge, was dedicated to Suzy’s memory. Its plaque reads:
Champion of Mill Road
Read more in this Guardian obituary of Suzy Oakes by Catherine Clarke, on this Suzy Oakes tribute page on the Mill Road Winter Fair website, and browse the Suzy Oakes Collection page on the Mill Road History Society website.
There follows a transcript of a contemporary obituary from the local newspaper.
‘Charismatic’ Suzy did so much with life
Raymond Brown, Cambridge News, 03/08/2011
An extraordinary community champion for Cambridge’s Mill Road has died after losing her battle with cancer.
Suzy Oakes, who studied the condition, was a leading figure in the creation of the hugely successful annual Mill Road Winter Fair.
She was also a driving force behind groundbreaking medical studies and created a world database of foods.
The 61-year-old died on Sunday after being diagnosed with the disease in April this year.
In the 1990s, Suzy worked at the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition, setting up a study based in Norfolk. In the 1990s, Suzy worked at the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition, setting up a study based in Norfolk.
Professor Steve O’Rahilly paid tribute to his wife.
He said: “Suzy was a charismatic and extraordinary woman who achieved so much in her all too brief life.
“She had travelled extensively, run several important medical studies, created a comprehensive database of world foods, and not least, been one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the Mill Road Winter Fair.”
He added that Suzy recognised the Mill Road neighbourhood was fascinating and diverse, with many interesting, independent shops and inquisitive, talented and open-minded residents.
She felt this should be celebrated in some way and helped start the fair six years ago.
It started small but now attracts more than 15,000 people on the first Saturday in December every year.
Suzy also created whatamieating.com. Her concept was that when travelling overseas, users of the website should be able to access instant, reliable information about what was on the menu, in food shops or markets. The website now has more than 70,000 entries in at least 60 languages.
Suzy helped to set up community website mill-road.com and was active with Friends of Mill Road Cemetery.
The Suzy Oakes Trust has been set up in her memory to support Mill Road community activities and help restore the graveyard.
In her youth, Suzy travelled widely including in the USA, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Greece.
In the 1980s, she was the co-ordinator of the 10-year United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study at Oxford University. The study proved for the first time that certain ways of managing Type 2 diabetes were better than others, resulting in improved care for millions of people around the world.
Through this work, Suzy met her husband who [became] a professor of clinical biochemistry and medicine, director of Cambridge University’s Metabolic Research Laboratories and scientific director of NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.